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Smoking tests in pregnancy

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Further information

Read what NICE has to say about the recent headlines on the breath testing of pregnant women for carbon monoxide and find previous guidance on helping women to quit smoking during pregnancy.

Pregnant women in England may be encouraged by midwives to take a breath test for carbon monoxide, to check for evidence of smoking or passive smoking, under recommendations from The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Women with high readings could then be referred to NHS ‘smoking cessation services’ to help them kick the habit.

Will I be forced to have a breath test?

No. According to the NICE guidance, pregnant women will not be forced to have a breath test. The tests will be entirely voluntary.

Why would I be tested?

Voluntary testing is designed to detect women who are passive smokers (that is, living in a tobacco smoke-filled environment), as well as smokers. The idea behind testing is not to penalise women, but to give mums-to-be the chance to get help to stop smoking or to insist others around them do not smoke nearby. The test should also help alert health professionals to high carbon monoxide levels in mums-to-be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty boiler or car exhaust.

Why smoking is bad for unborn babies

Smoking and passive smoking put the health of mums-to-be, their unborn babies and any other children in the household, at risk. Find advice and information on how to stop smoking in pregnancy from your GP or midwife, or at the NHS Choices website. Smoking is particularly dangerous for your unborn baby because everything you eat, drink or inhale goes straight from your bloodstream to your baby via the placenta.

Have the tests started yet?

Carbon monoxide testing is a recommendation, in guidance from NICE, and applies to England only. Individual health authorities may or may not be offering women the test yet. However, your midwife or GP should ask you if you smoke, or if you are exposed to second-hand smoke, at your booking in visit and offer you relevant assistance to quit if you are a smoker.

Help to stop…

For further advice on quitting smoking while pregnant, speak to your midwife or GP, or go to the NHS’s Smokefree website where you can order a Quit Kit, find helpful videos and information or chat with an online advisor*. You can also call the Smokefree helpline* on 0800 022 4 332†.

*Chat and phone lines open Mon-Fri 9am-8pm; Sat-Sun 11am-4pm.
†Calls free from a landline; charges from a mobile provider may vary.